Turks should be proud of their hospitality towards Syrians

Turks should be proud of their hospitality towards Syrians

Turkey is world famous for its hospitality. Yet the polls also show that Turks only like themselves; they don’t want, for instance, Jewish or Christian neighbors and there are not many foreign countries in the world that Turks feel sympathy for. This certainly shows Turkey’s inner contradictions.

The German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Trends survey released yesterday provides interesting information about Turks’ attitudes toward the Syrian refugees, which again potentially reflects the society’s inner contradictions.

Some 67 percent disapprove of the government’s handling of immigration. This is way above the European Union average, which is at 60 percent. Let me emphasize that while many European states are known to be migrant-receiving countries, Turkey was not considered, until recently, a migrant-receiving country. Rather, it is known to be a transit country.

As such, when people in Turkey were asked about the government’s handling of the immigration issue, take this as referring to the Syrian issue. So in other words a large majority of people are unhappy with the existence of 1.5 million Syrians living throughout Turkey. They are unhappy with the government’s handling of the issue, but I think this disapproval reflects a wish for a “closed door policy,” rather than a criticism of how Syrians are treated by the government. What makes me say this is another aspect of the survey: While 77 percent of Turks say they are worried about refugees, 66 percent said that refugee policies should be more restrictive.

In that sense Turkey seems to start showing similar reflexes as the Europeans who favor closed door policies.

Yet other findings of the survey highlight some fundamental differences between Turkey and Europe on the immigration issue.

When asked what motivates immigration, 40 percent of Europeans say work motivates people to migrate. In other words, Europeans believe migrants leave their countries in order to find employment. However, 60 percent of Turks believe the main reason is asylum. In other words, Turks realize Syrians and others are fleeing war and come to Turkey to find a safe haven.

While the concerns about immigration, as well as the disapproval of the government policy, are very high, this issue does not rank among the top problem in the country. Only 4 percent think this is the most important problem in the country, while the European average is 10 percent. In the United Kingdom, 25 percent believe immigration is the most important, while in Germany this ratio is 11 percent. Ironically, unemployment is much more of a higher concern for Turks than for Germans or the British. While 16 percent in Turkey ranked unemployment as the number one problem, this ratio was 9 for Germany and 12 for the U.K. In other words, while there is a higher concern among Turks to find jobs compared to their European counterparts, immigration is seen less as a burning issue again when compared with Europeans.

The news no matter how bleak it might be, coming from the field, combined with these findings, tell us that Turks can still be proud of the hospitality they have shown to the Syrians.

I am sure there are huge problems and that tension is accumulating especially in cities with a high number of Syrians. No doubt the states resources, as well as the society’s patience are running thin and we are fast approaching the point of exhaustion.

But let’s not forget that we are talking about 1.5 million refugees that came in the course of the past three years. This is a huge number that Turkey had to absorb in a very small period of time. And the challenge is now to cope with such a number for a much longer time.

Any other country in the “civilized, economically developed” West would have had many more problems and difficulties in dealing with such numbers. It would not even have left its doors open for such a number in the first instance. The tension and uneasiness we observe in the society after three years would have appeared within the first year in any other country. In short Turks should feel proud of the hospitality they have displayed toward the Syrians.

Yet, the government should not think there is an abundance of tolerance. On the contrary, if they do not act quickly to take measures tailored to deal with the necessities of a prolonged stay of the Syrians, we will have to face some further undesirable consequences.